The Doric Columns
THE ANCIENT WELLS
The ancient peoples had no means of conveying water and had to settle where it was to be found. Given a warm, sunny spot near a river, a burn, or a lake, with the added means of procuring food in the neighbourhood, we may with confidence look there for traces of a pre-historic community. Another indispensable condition for primitive man was access to the sea in winter. With domestic animals to cultivate the ground in summer and produce food for us. In winter man can maintain life in the interior of Scotland all the year round with comfort; but without cattle and without access to the sea in winter men would have been unable to survive the frequent rigorous winters of Scotland. Both these essentials for primitive man - proximity to potable water, and convenient access to the sea - were at the command of the early settlers at the mouths of the Don and the Dee.
Cattle thrived at certain watering holes and these were accredited with beneficial properties. Then came the Celts and the water cult in Scotland was established. Each Spring or well had a water spirit or guardian and was a place of ritual and superstition. Not all spirits were harmless. The Water Bull was least harmful and would help crofters plough their fields. Only rarely did the bull dray a poor peasant to a watery grave. The kelpie made mischief but did do good deeds. The malevolent spirit to beware of was The Water Horse who would carry off young maidens who mounted the golden stallion and would find themselves stuck there and drowned.
Offerings were given up to the guardians by nailing coins etc. to nearby trees. Aberdeen with 2 rivers and many burns and lochs had lots of wells. Each well had its own unique properties which cured a sore head to gout. People rushed to the most popular sites to be cured and businesses sprang up around them. Affluence of the middle classes in the late 18th Century with their indulgence in wine, gluttony and a dislike of exercise led to a whole new set of ailments. They turned to the wells for relief. A craze for 'taking the waters' had arrived
Fountainhall WellRe-erected 1903 in the Duthie Park.
Small rubble cistern house. Flat-square opening to centre of South Elevation with large lintel, Metal plaque above reading "Old Well from Lands of Fountainhall, erected in connection with the first engineered City water supply of 1706, Rectangular pool in front, with 4 stone steps on each side leading down to water; brick and stone lined vaulted inner chamber. The original site was at the edge of a field on the Fountainhall Road and was Photographed by G W Wilson in 1900. Original Site Photo
The Cistern House was originally sited at Fountainhall, and dates from the time when there was a single reservoir in Aberdeen, collected from the springs at Carden's Haugh, creating the first clean and healthy water supply to the City.
This small cistern house was erected in connection with Aberdeen's 1st City water supply. Water had previously been obtained from the Loch but by 1706 it had become polluted and lead pipes were laid to bring water from Carden's Haugh Well. Six cisterns or fountain-houses were built along the old Fountainhall Road and water was conveyed from these sources to the Water House in Broad Street until 1866. A new scheme was eventually introduced and in 1903 the Fountainhall Well was taken from its original site and rebuilt in Duthie Park.
Cardenhaugh Well - Garden's
The Corby Well
The Corbie Well, deriving its title from the fact that a large rookery colony existed among the trees that covered the west bank of the Denburn Valley, near where the well stood. The Corbie Well was rebuilt in a different form when the Union Terrace Gardens were laid out in 1877
Pictures show the re-housed Corby Well with a surround and standard salvaged from the Union Bridge Stone parapet and lighting columns and a spare weather Vane
The Corby Well, 60 years ago, was a square stone building containing a cistern discharging water by a small pipe. They say that in the days when men drank deep at night they found a draught of water from the Corby Well very refreshing for re-hydration next morning; hence, in some shops it was the duty of the youngest apprentice to visit the Corby Well in the early forenoon with the small "rouser " used for sprinkling the shop floor to lay dust at sweeping up time. They say also that an inspection of the cistern in the stone structure on one occasion revealed a sight so disgusting, from the number of snails and other creatures that had taken up their quarters there, that it was resolved to abolish the well and replace it by a fountain supplied with Dee water.
Supplied by a chalybeate spring (Iron Salts), producing cool mineral water, this well existed before the 18th century. Moved from its original site - in Union Terrace Gardens about 100 yards (30m) to the south, the older well was replaced in 1898 by an outlet in a plain granite ashlar wall. An inscription - "Renewed 1856" - from the old well was removed during later modernisation, and until the 1960s the wall supported one of the stone pillar lamp-posts from the 1747 Bow Brig surmounted by the weather-vane from the steeple of old St Nicholas Kirk. Corbie Haugh was the name - because rooks nested there - of the Brae above the Gardens. Near the original Corbie Well steps led up to the south end of Denburn Terrace and to the lower part of Skene Terrace, which along with the iron foot bridge over the new underground Denburn to Mutton Brae and Schoolhill, were cleared away by 1888, prior to the construction of Rosemount Viaduct and the north end of Union Terrace. Bairns at the Corbie Well - weel happit up.
St John's Well
St John's Well was so named because the Knights of St John of Jerusalem supposedly owned a croft near it. It was originally positioned to the west of Summer Road which led from the Craibstane on Hardgate over to the upper Denburn. When Rosemount Viaduct was built it was moved to Skene Row at Hardweird in 1885 when it was fed by the Dee instead of the original spring. It was rebuilt in 1852, at which time the Latin inscription was added (translated: "St John's Spring, Renovated by the Superintendent of Public Works, 1852"). Finally it was moved to its present site in 1955.
St. John's Well, once situated at the foot of Skene Row, on property once owned by the Knights of St. John. The spring was cleaned, and the stone well built by the Police Commissioners in 1852. On the construction of Rosemount Viaduct in 1885, the well was moved a few yards and Dee water was introduced. The Latin inscription is by Dr. Melvin, of the Grammar School, and reads "St. John's Well. Restored by the Curators of Public Works. 1852"
The site of St John's Well,
1696, which was named
from the fact that it stood on
St John's Croft. It was of considerable local repute and a
building was erected over it in
1885 it was removed to where virtually nothing was
1952, and in
1955 it was moved to
24 Albyn Place where it takes the form of a U-plan of ashlar with
St Mary's Well
This well must have been named after the famous spring of the same name in the
east of Belgium. The Aberdeen spring like the Belgian contained iron. The Latin
for iron is " ferrum," and the waters of both springs should have been called
ferric, but the medical term applied to such waters is chalybeate, derived from
the Latin word "chalybs," steel. Probably this term was selected because its
meaning would not have been readily understood by the vulgar. "When
water, containing carbon dioxide or carbonic acid gas, sinks into soil or
decaying rock containing iron it dissolves some of the iron and takes it up in
the form of carbonate of iron, which makes it astringent and inky in taste but
does not alter its colour. If the water issues from a drain or a crack in a rock
with a large stream it shows no change in colour till it has come in contact
with the air. Then it begins to grow red, because oxygen of the air displaces
the carbon dioxide and forms iron oxide. Flakes of red mucous-looking matter
form and adhere to grass and stones in the stream, and the water becomes clear.
A blood-red stream discharged from an iron mine often becomes clear in running a
mile at a roadside. People who wish to drink water containing iron should take
it as it issues from the ground or a rock before it becomes red. As medicinal
agents chalybeate waters act as tonics and are supposed to redden the blood.
They are often prescribed for young persons of a pale complexion. Formerly
chalybeate waters were in greater repute than they are at present.
(Barr's Irn Bru is Scotlands most popular soft drink)
The Well of Spa now at the corner of Skene Street and Spa Street This ornate sandstone gable-end entrance is all that remains of the vault that was gifted to the City in 1635 by George Jamesone. Jamesone, a Scottish portrait painter who lived in Schoolhill, drank the waters daily and highly praised the spring, known as the Spa, which ran under Woolman Hill. The curative powers of the waters were well known to physicians of the time and its virtues were extolled in an early printed book of 1580. Unfortunately the Spa was vulnerable to flood damage. This wall was rebuilt in 1670 after it fell into disrepair following a violent torrent in the Denburn in 1650. In 1751 the well disappeared and it was 100 years before it was moved and renovated by Dr James Gordon of Pitlurg. Two cups hung from chains and the people of Denburn regularly used the water until they were connected to the city’s water supply. Finally, in 1977 it was skilfully restored by Moray Stone Cutters of Birnie.
The site of the Well of Spa, a medicinal well over which a building decorated with portraits of 6 of the Apostles had been erected, but was in ruins by 1615. It was rebuilt in 1635, replaced in 1670, renovated in 1851 and finally, the water supply having been cut off by the erection of the railway tunnel, removed in 1893 when it was incorporated in the retaining wall of the Old Infirmary Buildings. Water from another well was piped to it. The original site is covered by a road.
Thieves' Brig Well
The Gibberie Wallie
The Gibberie Wallie or Firhill Well was originally in a rural Location at Firhill. It was on the edge of a mound in a lane leading to the Hermitage that was surrounded by the King's College Wynd and probably have been named after this fir clad mound which lay near the Snow Kirk Burial Ground. It is known to be in use prior to 1721. It was moved to its location in the Sunnybank Sports Ground on Sunnybank Road in 1937. The Well lies to the rear of a bowling green in a lovely setting. However it is not accessible as the gate is usually locked. It is a lovely horseshow shape which would have allowed people to sit normally on the upper tier and have a fair old 'Cleck' or 'Gibber' while they waited their turn to collect slow pouring Water for domestic use. Fit i'ye gibberin' about noo ye gibberin' eediot?
A more favoured theory is the
regular sale of Gingerbread at the Well - allegedly referred to locally as
Gibberie not Gingerbreed.
The Firhill Well once sprang iron rich water from the base of the Little Firhill (removed by sand quarrying in 1860’s - now the location of the University’s heating plant), to the west of College Bounds. In 1721 John Forbes drank some of the spring water, and found it helped his gallstones.
The area around the spring was known as the ‘Bog of Sunnyside’, but the water was claimed by local farmers also to have cured various ailments (including asthma, conjunctivitis and stomach pains). In 1798, thanks to public donations, a stone fountain was built to collect the springwater, and the Firhill Road was laid for easier access. The spring’s popularity greatly increased both from pilgrims for its healing powers, and as a meeting place for the young. Wooden seats supplemented the semi-circular stone benching on either side of the wellhead, and the consumption of the water had to be rationed. Between 1815 and 1830 Baubie Courage (infamous for the methods used to enforce her monopoly, and for breaking the Sabbath) sold gingerbread at the springs, which consequently became known as the Gibberie Wallie. - whaur aul’ Baubie Courage eest tae sell her gibrie.
James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen
St Fitticks Well - Balnagask
The old Well of the Saint, alas! is on the brink of destruction, and another winter of fierce south-easters may overwhelm it. Years ago the spring was traced back a few yards from the brink, and a temporary well, with the spring only partially tapped, built at a safe distance from the sea, but we hope the day is not far distant when a monument, worthy of its hoary traditions and its fine situation, will present the cooling stream of the old spring to the pilgrims who to-day are seeking health and repose by the Bay of Nigg, for St. Fittick's shore is still a favourite haunt of the townspeople, and on summer afternoons the cheery kettle bubbles on a dozen rude hearths raised on the sea-sward—innocent altars to the Goddess Hygeia.
St. Fittick's Wellwas in great repute in the days before the Reformation frowned on such superstitious observances. Down, even till within the memory of people still living, the Well was frequented on account of its healing powers, and people gathered from country and town to lay down their simple offerings - a rag, a nail, a pin - and to seek some benefit. By degrees the religious significance of the rite was lost, but the custom of visiting the well continued, and on the first Sunday of May great numbers of people, chiefly from the City, visited the spring and the neighbourhood, and gave themselves up to amusement and revel on beach and sea brae. Town Council and Kirk Session struggled by laws and punishments to stop those Sunday wanderings and to efface those vestiges of old superstitions, but the customs of centuries die hard, and to-day young and old, to whom the name St. Fittick is a meaningless term and the repute of his well quite unknown, ramble on Sunday's and week-days to the bay once called by his name, and they find the old power still lingers, for the beauty of the Bay, the fresh sea-breeze, and the pure draught from the old spring still bless and heal.
On the wayside bank to the east of the old church there isanother well, known of old as The Lady Well,
- roofed with anold Saxon vault, and reached by a short flight of time-worn stone steps. It is a quaint and interesting spring, but tradition has brought down little knowledge concerning it. A little way south from St. Fittick's Well, or the Downies Well, as it is also called, stands the great detached mass of cliff called " The Downies Craig,' united to the mainland by a narrow neck, " The Brig o' ae Hair," and showing a curious perforation in the neighbouring cliff, well named " The Needle E'e.' The Downies Craig is closely linked in history with St. Fittick's Well. The Craig was the usual limit of the wanderings of the May Day revellers. Here they crossed the "Brig o' ae Hair," very different in those days from its present state, for the slenderness of the connecting neck, which gave it its graphic name has been in great part massed by the rubbish, tilted over it, when the adjacent railway cutting was made. On the summit of the Craig there is a stretch of fine green sward, and thereon, the brig crossed, the youthful revellers used to cut the names of their loves.
But the shore of the Bay itself is much changed within a generation. One who played by the old well when it was a simple spring issuing from a broad grassy bank now swept away, says, "How different the Bay looked when I was a boy. It was pure sand from the old salt pans round almost to the bothy, and fine small gravel higher up, which we used to get carted for our garden walks, and in those days of wooden ships there was mostly some wreckage drawn up on the beach. I remember going out in the salmon-fishers' cobbles, and looking over the edge to the pure clean bottom. How it has all changed since the stones were taken away to make the South Breakwater."
Legend and myth tells that St Fittick himself was thought to have been shipwrecked and scrambled to shore at the Bay of Nigg c. AD 650 to convert the locals, and refreshed himself at a spring, which became known as St Fittick’s Well.
In reality, however, St Fittick in all likelihood never actually existed and is probably an amalgam of 2 different saints: St Fiacre and St Fotin. The historical evidence is absolutely clear that there was a church here since the late 12th century. The fact that the church was then consecrated in the early 13th century suggests that it was a relatively new church (or possibly a newly built church on an older site, but given the general reorganisation of the church in the 12th century it is more likely that this was a new church in the late 12th century). The church and lands were gifted by King William the Lion to the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey, and they Abbots remained the feudal superior of these lands until the reformation in 1560.
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